By Hovannes Shoghikian
A fugitive son of Gyumri Mayor Vartan Ghukasian was arrested on Friday nearly two months after being charged with instigating a high-profile shootout in Armenia’s second largest city.
Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General said Spartak Ghukasian surrendered to the police and was immediately taken to a prison in Artik, a small town near Gyumri.
Ghukasian reportedly led one of the two groups of young men who exchanged gunfire in broad daylight on May 20. The other group is thought to have been led by Rustam Sargsian, a son of a prominent local businessman and former government official. Sargsian and one of his associates remain on the run.
“Measures are being taken to track down two other individuals charged within the framework of this criminal case,” a spokeswoman for the prosecutors, Sona Truzian, told RFE/RL.
Ghukasian Jr. turned himself in the day after his controversial father was summoned to a meeting in Yerevan with Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian. A newspaper report on Friday said the Gyumri mayor, who has claimed to be unaware of his son’s whereabouts, was “offered” to hand over the suspect to law-enforcement authorities within 24 hours. He was reportedly received by President Robert Kocharian earlier this week.
In an earlier televised interview, Ghukasian vehemently denied Spartak’s involvement in the gunfight that left at least two people wounded. He accused the media and his rivals of discrediting his family by implicating it in other instances of violence reported in Gyumri in recent years. He also rejected mounting calls for his resignation.
The flamboyant mayor, who is a senior member of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), was seriously wounded in a mysterious drive-by shooting that killed three of his bodyguards about last April.
The shootout coincided with the May 20 disappearance of a 12-year-old boy whose decomposed body was found in an abandoned Gyumri shack a week ago. Many local residents suspect that Robert Simonian may have been hit by a stray bullet or run over by one of the cars involved in the shootout.
Investigators have effectively dismissed this theory, saying that Simonian most probably died as a result of playing with a hand grenade or another explosive device.
Residents of neighboring houses did not report hearing any explosions on May 20, however. Many also wonder how the police failed to stumble on Simonian’s corpse when they scoured the entire shanty town with sniffer dogs in the days that followed his disappearance.
The prosecutors have said the precise cause of the boy’s death will be established by a more meticulous forensic examination. According to Truzian, the examination is still not complete.
(Photolur photo: Vartan Ghukasian.)